Less than one week after allegedly mentally ill Randy Santos killed four homeless men while they were sleeping on the streets, another mentally ill man attacked a defenseless 6-year-old boy who was sitting on the steps of his grandparent’s home in Queens.
The “good news” if there is any, is that events like this are preventable and the money is there to do it. Almost all mentally ill attackers have common characteristics. To prevent future attacks, Mayor de Blasio should deliver treatment to other people who have those same characteristics. Instead, he is forming yet another task force.
Random attackers are almost always people who have serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They are not people with mild illnesses like depression or ADHD. They are adults, not children or seniors. And they are going untreated, not attending community programs. Unfortunately, only 12 percent of the mayor’s $850 million ThriveNYC is focused on adults with untreated serious mental illness. As a result almost 40 percent of the most seriously mentally ill in New York City go untreated.
Creating task forces in lieu of taking action is a common practice of the mayor. In the wake of a previous tragedy, in 2014, he created a “Task Force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice” dominated by mental health officials who outvoted the criminal justice officials. He formed another task force in 2018, in the wake of the police shooting of mentally ill Saheed Vassell. Task forces allow him to look like he is taking action at the time of the tragedy and then not take action. We don’t need a task force. We need action.
Kendra’s Law is New York’s most successful program for the seriously mentally ill. It allows judges to order them to stay in treatment for one year while they continue to live in the community. It’s proven to reduce homelessness, arrest, violence and incarceration in the 70 percent range.
To get more people into Kendra’s Law, the mayor should put evaluators able to fill out petitions in the three chokepoints: jails, shelters and hospitals.
He should train NYC-WELL operators on how to help families get mentally ill loved ones into Kendra’s Law. He should give priority access to housing for mentally ill people coming out of shelters, hospitals and jails.
Instead, the mayor issued a press release saying there’s going to be a task force. If press releases would solve the problem, this would have been solved a long time ago.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
DJ Jaffe is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institue, executive director of Mental Illness Policy Org., and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill.
Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images